Terrence Robinson turned down a plea offer from prosecutors that might have spared him prison time for the fatal shooting of a handcuffed man, according to law enforcement sources.
Before his manslaughter trial, the Erie County district attorney's office was willing to let Robinson plead guilty to a lesser felony count of criminally negligent homicide for shooting Anthony Williams last fall, sources said.
That plea would have assured Robinson's automatic dismissal from the police force and subjected him to a possible prison term.
But it also meant that, as a first-time offender, he could and probably would have received probation, sources said.
Robinson's defense attorney, Edward C. Cosgrove, refused to discuss the plea talks because of Robinson's expected appeal.
But Robinson expected to be acquitted because "he wasn't guilty, as far as he was concerned," Cosgrove said.
Instead of probation or a maximum four-year prison term for the plea agreement, Robinson's conviction Thursday for second-degree manslaughter leaves him facing a mandatory prison term of one to 15 years.
Robinson, 35, a five-year police veteran, was convicted of shooting Williams, 20, in the head with his .38-caliber service revolver after shoving the barrel of the weapon against Williams' head. He is free on his own recognizance until sentencing Aug. 8.
During the trial, Robinson argued that his weapon was damaged and fired accidentally during the early morning scuffle with Williams on Fillmore Avenue. Eyewitnesses said Williams was handcuffed and being restrained by Robinson and two other men when the revolver fired.
Commenting on Robinson's plea offer, Erie County District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon said he was not involved in these talks and would have had the final say on any such plea deal.
Albert M. Ranni, the chief prosecutor in the case, and Justice Julian F. Kubiniec, the judge in the case, both declined comment on the abandoned plea deal.
In a related development, Robinson also may be liable for damage payments to Williams' fiance and 7-month-old daughter, according to sources. City lawyers may hold Robinson was "outside the scope" of his police duties and claim the city isn't liable, said several sources who asked not to be identified.
However, even that would not keep the city from being sued, but force Robinson to pay for attorneys to defend him, sources said.
Corporation Counsel Samuel F. Houston declined to comment on the legal action or the city's views on representing Robinson. Law enforcement sources said Houston's office will decide whether to represent Robinson soon.
The city would be accused of failing to properly train and supervise Robinson, creating a situation where he was both "malicious and reckless" and used "excessive force," according to Walter G. Goldstein, chief attorney for the Williams family.
A former first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robinson was president of his 1972 graduating class at Buffalo's Calasanctius School for the gifted. Robinson and his wife, a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering at the University of Buffalo, have a young daughter.
He attended Princeton University for several semesters before joining the Marines. Robinson plans to return to college, regardless of his sentence, according to Cosgrove.